Earth Day and Our Town

Earth Day

“For in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible.” —Colossians 1:16a.


The verse from Colossians is an ancient Christian hymn describing who Christ is. I also see it as a reminder of looking for the Christ in ourselves and others moment by moment. I know how difficult this is. Sometimes the Christ is so visible—and sometimes invisible.

I think of Emily in the Thornton Wilder play, Our Town, who is allowed to return to earth for one day to Grover’s Corners after her young, untimely death at age twenty-six. She chooses her twelfth birthday, and soon returns to her grave—when she can no longer bear watching as the people she loves barely interact with each other. They seem unable to appreciate the joy and wonder of each new day together, and fail to see the Christ in each other.

I am thinking about a past Earth Day when I listened to music about the earth, such as Beethoven’s Sixth Pastoral Symphony, as we traveled from a reunion in Virginia to the Gulf Coast. This symphony always reminds me of the four years we lived in Iowa City. The music was the background for a visual production of the Iowa outdoors called Iowa, A Place to Grow, which always reminded us to bloom where we were planted, and to appreciate the beauty of the earth and the people of that state.

I remember the first Earth Day in 1970. It was the day my husband of six months left for Vietnam for a year. I was pregnant with our first child and feeling very sorry for myself. I spent the day watching the Earth Day celebration on our small black and white television and stripping the wax off the floor of our kitchen. I knew I had to transform the energy generated by Robert’s leaving into something useful. I wish I could write here that I went out and planted trees; but alas, my kitchen floor was as far as I got.

I also remember that during our Earth Day trip we were driving through a gentle rain and the car radio was playing American composer Alan Hovhaness’ tribute to a beloved tree on his uncle’s farm that was struck by lightning, “Under the Ancient Maple Tree.” I wish I could say I participated in some marvelous events to care for and thank our earth, and especially its trees, on the other forty-nine Earth Days since that first one; but I honestly cannot remember another Earth Day. That day the best I could do was to enjoy the ride, give thanks for the rain, and be grateful for the bountiful green trees keeping us alive along Interstate 85.

I think of my father, a forester, who led many hundreds of expeditions to plant pine seedlings. I remember on trips how he often would point out the tall grown trees that he had planted. Now, many years later, I thank him for his plantings.

I have learned along the way that our environment, the outdoors, and especially trees keep us grounded to the present moment. It is just such a present moment that I think Emily in Our Town is talking about; one in which we learn to appreciate each precious gift of time, especially time with those we love. My experience is that I live most consciously in the present moment when I am outdoors and see the trees and plants, and realize that there is something greater going on than the past and the future with which I am so preoccupied.

C. S. Lewis and so many others, and now Emily, all remind us that the present moment—not the past or the future—is where we meet and recognize God in ourselves, in each other, and in nature. This is one of the best ways of knowing the Creator, the God of Love.